Abbaye de Belloc [pronounced ah-BAY duh Bell-OCK] is a semi-hard farmhouse cheese made from raw ewe’s milk. Produced in the Pays Basque region of the French Pyrenees, the cheese was created by Benedictine monks at the Abbey of Notre-Dame de Belloc. Milk from local farms was brought into the abbey where it was turned into cheese by the monks. Today, the cheese is produced by dairy farms in proximity to the abbey, still according to the monks’ recipe and process.
Abbaye de Belloc is found in 9 to 11 pound (4 to 5 kg) flat wheels. The thick, crusty natural rind is grayish brown, stippled with red, yellow, or orange. The rind, pitted with tiny craters, is trimmed and discarded before eating the cheese.
Aged between four and ten months, Abbaye de Belloc dries as it matures. The older the cheese, the more developed and assertive its flavor will be. Even so, this cheese has a relatively mild character. It is distinguished by a nutty, caramel taste. With 60 percent fat, the texture is dense, rich, smooth, and buttery.
Abbaye de Belloc is a designated AOC cheese, which means that it is protected by the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée system. Strict rules govern every element that goes into the making of the cheese. From the breed of ewe whose milk is used to the pasture those ewes are allowed to graze in, shepherds who provide milk for this cheese must be in compliance. To that end, this cheese is produced from the milk of the Manech ewe, a local breed with a black (Manech Tête Noire) or red (Manech Tête Rousse) face.
Other factors that are carefully regulated according to AOC guidelines include the season the cheese is made in; the conditions under which the cheese is produced and stored; and the physical characteristics, including the size and shape, of the cheese.
The AOC rules are in place to ensure consistency among very specific types of cheeses, some of which have been produced the exact same way for generations. An AOC designation ensures that consumers can have faith that the product they are purchasing will meet their expectations of it based on their experience with past examples of that product.
Abbaye de Belloc is delicious on its own as a table cheese, served with bread. It is complemented by olives and fruit relishes, particularly those featuring traditionally autumnal flavors such as apples, figs, and pumpkin. This cheese may also be grated and melted over grilled foods or stirred into sauces. Good wines to pair with this cheese are Bordeaux, Zinfandel, and Syrah. Well-rounded reds in general will make a good match for this cheese.